French Grammar: Si Clauses Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on May 23, 2016 in Grammar
Also known as conditional sentences, si clauses in French posit what will happen if something else happens first. In English, this would be something like: “If I go to the store, I will get you some dessert.” In conditional sentences, the possibility of the second part of the sentence (the second clause; in this example, “I will get you some dessert”) depends entirely on the first part of the sentence (the first clause; in this example, “If I go to the store”).
While “then” must be used in conditional sentences in English, there is no equivalent in French. The only word that is necessary in a French conditional is si, which is the equivalent of “if.” However, there are three different forms of conditional sentences that you can use in French:
- Potential–In this conditional sentence, the second clause is very likely to happen. These sentences always begin with the present tense in the first clause.
- Irréel du présent–In this second conditional sentence, the second clause is unlikely or unknown to happen. In this case, the first clause must be in the imperfect tense.
- Irréel du passé–In this last conditional sentence, the second clause is impossible and will not happen because it could have happened in the past but didn’t. Thus, the pluperfect tense is used in the first clause.
Let’s look at some examples now:
- si+present tense: Si tu veux le lire, je te le prêterai (“If you want to read it, I’ll lend it to you.”) As you see in this example, si+present tense can result in future tense. It can also result in another present tense in the second clause depending on the timeline in your sentence.
- si+imperfect: Si j’habitais à Los Angeles, j’irais tous les jours à la plage! (“If I lived in Los Angeles, I would go to the beach every day!” Because this isn’t seen as likely to happen, the first part of the sentence is not in the present tense, but in the imperfect tense. The second part of the clause becomes conditional.
- si+pluperfect: Si j’étais né à New York, j’aurais eu le vrai accent new yorkais! (“If I had been born in New York, I would have had the real New York accent!”). In this example, the past possibility did not come true, and thus the second clause is in the past conditional.
Can you think of examples of either of these three conditional sentences? Leave your examples in the comments below!